Hopes were high when the Bengals hired Zac Taylor. Mike Brown’s team hadn’t brought in a new head coach since Marvin Lewis took over in 2003. The team had been stagnant and was in need of a new voice. The Bengals took a big swing by hiring a young offensive-minded coach with somewhat limited qualifications, and they weren’t alone in doing so this year.
The Bengals are one of eight teams who hired a new head coach for the 2019 season. Two of those coaches had previous NFL head coaching experience and one had previous experience as a head coach at the collegiate level. All but one came from an offensive background, but unlike Taylor, most were calling plays at some point last season.
Let’s check in on these coaches. How are they doing and how does the future look for their teams?
Matt LaFleur - Green Bay Packers (7-1)
LaFleur has clearly been the best of the bunch so far. The Packers currently sit on top of the NFC North with a record of 7-1. Having Aaron Rodgers certainly doesn’t hurt, but the Packers offense has been exceptional. Like Taylor, LaFleur comes from the Sean McVay tree, but his offense has been much more productive this year than that of Taylor’s and even McVay’s. LaFleur seems to have a great relationship with his quarterback and is making great use of his other offensive talent.
He looks like an excellent hire and could be exactly what the Packers and Rodgers need.
Kliff Kingsbury - Arizona Cardinals (3-4-1)
Kingsbury was an odd hire. He was fired as head coach of his alma mater Texas Tech after going 5-7; his third consecutive losing season. The Cardinals however were more interested in what Kingsbury brought in terms of offensive scheme. He was a gamble, just like cutting bait on Josh Rosen after only a season and drafting Kyler Murray, but so far it looks like it may pay off.
The Cardinals sit at 3-4-1 after winning 3 of the last 4 games. It will be interesting to see if Kingsbury can have sustained success in the NFL. He went 8-5 in his 1st season as head coach of the Red Raiders. It was his best season and one of only two positive records that Texas Tech had during his tenure.
Bruce Arians - Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-5)
Arians picked the right time to retire from the Cardinals, as that team had some major roster issues when he left. There was much excitement as he came to Tampa Bay, but so far the team has struggled.
Arians is known as a quarterback whisperer, but doesn’t seem to be able to fix Jameis Winston. He will probably get to pick another quarterback in the upcoming draft and see what he can do with him.
Having had success in the past, he has earned some leeway. He is a good coach, and with time and good roster moves he could be successful once again.
Freddie Kitchens - Cleveland Browns (2-5)
Kitchens had a meteoric rise in Cleveland. He started 2018 as the running backs coach with the Browns, was promoted as the interim offensive coordinator during the season, and was named head coach in January.
The Browns hired Kitchens as their coach because their young quarterback Baker Mayfield, likes him and like Mayfield himself, that is dangerous. Kitchens doesn’t seem to know how to manage a team, which is evident in his in-game decisions and how he deals with players.
The Browns have a lot of talent, but thankfully they don’t have the right coach to take advantage of it.
Vic Fangio - Denver Broncos (2-6)
Fangio was certainly the most qualified assistant coach to get his first head coaching job this season. Fangio’s NFL experience goes all the way back to 1986. He became a defensive coordinator for the first time in 1995 and was a defensive coordinator for all but three seasons between then and 2018 when his defense carried the Chicago Bears to an NFC North title.
The Broncos are not in great shape. The defense was a strength last season, and has struggled under new leadership. The offense has not been any better. They do seem to be pretty competitive and have managed to win a couple of games.
A lot needs to change in Denver, but it is hard to blame that on Fangio. His high qualifications and defensive background make him a bit of an outlier in a league where fresh young offensive coaches get all of the acclaim.
Fangio has looked wise and experienced at times and like a dinosaur at other times. It will be interesting to see where the Broncos finish and what he decides to do at the quarterback position moving forward.
Adam Gase - New York Jets (1-6)
Gase had one good year as the head coach of the Miami Dolphins. That was in his first year, which is never a good sign.
For some reason, the Jets decided to give him another shot and it has not gone well.
The Jets have roster issues and losing Sam Darnold for a few weeks certainly didn’t help, but Gase isn’t giving Jets fans much to be excited about.
My guess is this doesn’t last long.
Brian Flores - Miami Dolphins (0-7)
It’s really not Flores’ fault that a team already lacking in talent has consistently traded it away. The Dolphins have acquired a lot of draft capital and would appear to have the inside track at Tua Tagovailoa, but who knows if ownership plans on keeping Flores around to use their extra picks.
Their usage of personnel has been suspect, but it is hard to judge Flores amidst the tank. Even though it is not all his fault, I don’t know if a head coach can survive a tank.
Zac Taylor - Bengals (0-8)
The Bengals went out and hired a young offensive coach from the league’s hottest coaching tree, but with very different results than those of the Green Bay Packers.
It is true that the Bengals have injury issues, that coupled with their lack of depth has caused a lot of problems.
The Bengals seem to be in just about every game, but have not been able to come up with a win. It is the head coach’s job to figure out how to win the key situations that make the differences in close games.
His offensive play calling has been the cause of much frustration. There are flashes of excellent play design, but overall it lacks the creativity that we all were hoping to see. They are rarely scheming players open and can’t seem to run the ball. They have been extremely conservative, particularly on third downs. Three-and-outs have become common place and when they manage to put a drive together, it usually stalls in the red zone.
I hate to break the news to anyone but this offense of the Bengals does not resemble the Rams at all.— Michael Lombardi (@mlombardiNFL) October 1, 2019
The defensive scheme has been an issue as well. While Taylor does make the calls on that side of the ball, as the head coach he should still be held responsible.
There is, of course, the infamous two-man rush with Andrew Billings dropping into coverage. Worse than that, though, is pairing poor edges with slow linebackers. Speaking of slow linebackers, they have been very reluctant to get rookie linebacker Germaine Pratt on the field more. Fear of playing youth seems to have carried over from the previous staff.
Here's what Rams WR Cooper Kupp told reporters in London following his 220-yard day: "The Bengals played what they've shown, and we were able to execute what our game plan was."— Ben Baby (@Ben_Baby) October 27, 2019
The one good thing you can say about the defense is that they know how to compete. Despite their shortcomings and schematic problems, they have often been the reason the team is in games, but eventually breakdowns occur.
With a handful of exceptions, the players look worse than they did last year. This is an indictment of the entire coaching staff and how they develop and utilize players.
Things do not look good for Taylor. Moving on from Marvin Lewis was a big change in Cincinnati, but there are likely more on the horizon.
There could be a major shake up on the coaching staff. If not at the top position, then at coordinator or offensive line coach.
Of course there is likely a change coming behind center as well.
Is this what Taylor needs to get his offense going? Only time will tell if it makes a difference. Andy Dalton spent most of his career in one offensive system. Perhaps he just doesn’t have what it takes between the ears to be successful in this offense.